ELEPHANTS AND CAPTURE
Wildlife Protection Act
Life of Wild Elephants
Man-Elephant Conflict - Case Study in North Bengal
Elephant Capture and Training in Kerala Forest Department
Elephant Capturing in North-eastern India
In 1972, the Indian Parliament passed the Wildlife
Protection Act, to establish a standardised national policy
for wildlife protection in the country. In 1973 June 1st, this
Wildlife Protection Act was endorsed in Kerala by its State
Parliament. The law has 68 sections pertaining to various
aspects of wildlife conservation.
Schedule - I of the Wildlife Protection Act
There are 6 Schedules in the Wildlife Protection Act.
Initially there were only 5 but in 1991 a 6th schedule was
introduced. The Schedule I animals are those that face the
threat of extinction due to poaching and trade and have very
small existing populations in the wild. The elephant is placed
under the category 12-A of Schedule I proving that it is an
animal facing the threat of extinction. The animals in the
Schedule I and part II of Schedule I are under strict
Protocols for Schedule - I Animals
Since the elephant is a Schedule -I animal, the following
protocols apply to both captive and wild elephants.
1.Declaration of ownership:
The 40th-44th sections of the Wildlife Protection Act are
directly related to Schedule I animals and also to the animals
in part II of Schedule II. The 40th section requires the
owners of animals belonging to the above mentioned categories,
to declare their ownership to the Government that they possess
these particular animals. This claim should be documented,
within one month of acquiring the animal. The Chief Wildlife
Warden of the state, or the District Forest Officer may be
contacted for the same.
The law requires the elephant owners to register their
elephants at the District Forest Officer’s office. Though this
Act was passed in Kerala State in 1973, most of the elephants
in captivity are not registered with the government. Many
elephant owners are unaware of or insensitive to, this
requirement which constitutes a clear violation of the act and
To apply for an ownership certificate, the applicant has to
fill up form no-13, which is available at every District Range
Office. The completed form is sent to the Chief Conservator’s
office who informs the applicant, (on form no-14) through the
DFO's office, that his elephant would be inspected by
officials on a certain date. The inspecting officer will
inspect the tethering area, take measurements of the elephant
and prepare a report on form no-15 and send it to the
Conservator’s office in the capital. The applicant will be
issued an ownership certificate (on form No -16) after the
authorities are convinced of the elephant's identity and
satisfied with its health condition.
The charges for violation of this protocol are stated in
Section - 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act, and it entails a
1-6 year prison sentence or payment of Rs 5000 as fine. If the
person is charged for repeating the offence, his punishment is
doubled. An owner who is ignorant of the law, is permitted by
the authorities, to apply for an ownership certificate. The
charges were amended in 1991.
2.Transfer or transportation of elephants:
To transfer an elephant from one place to another, the
owner must inform the officer concerned, i.e., the Range
The applicant must receive permission from the range
officer, on form no-4, which requires the applicant to submit
his ownership certificate or registration number. In the
absence of an ownership certificate, the forest officers
inform the owners to apply for a registration certificate. If
this condition has been satisfied, the elephant is inspected
by a veterinary surgeon to ensure the health condition of the
animal and to see if the animal is fit enough to make the
journey by foot or vehicle. If the veterinarian agrees to send
the animal on the journey, the officers would issue a
Transport - Permit or form no - 6 to the applicant. In Kerala,
elephants are often brought from Bihar and U.P. and the
licence or ownership certificate is not renewed. The
certificate of registration done in other states is valid only
up to a period of 1 month. After which, the certificate has to
be renewed or the elephant has to be re-registered in the
current state of domicile.
3. Elephant attacks:
The Act addresses issues related to wildlife invasion or
attack, on human beings. If wild elephants attacked a village
or a house or destroyed several acres of plantation and crops,
the victims are likely to be compensated by the government. In
1980, the state passed a provision for the victims of attack
by the animals enlisted in the Wildlife Protection Act. A sum
of Rs. 10,000 is paid for loss of life, and handicap and Rs
5000 depending on the extent of damage.
The victim has to apply for his re-imbursement to the Range
Officer of the concerned range. The Range Officer would
forward this application to the District Forest Officer who
will sanction the amount to the descendants of the victim in
case of loss of life or compensate for the damage to property.
There are certain conditions to receiving or issuing
compensations. If the victim has been killed or attacked
because he/she ventured into the restricted forest area,
he/she will not be compensated, but will be compensated, if
the victim was attacked while he/she were on the public road.
Similarly if the victim was attacked at his/her patta
(or - allotted) piece of land in the forest or the road
leading to it, he/she is eligible for the compensation. The
compensation does not apply to captive or domestic elephants.
If any mahout or any individual were to be attacked by a
captive elephant he will not be compensated.
Wild elephants that are a threat to humans, may be removed
with orders from the Chief Conservator of Forests. The law has
a provision for killing wild animals of Schedule -I that
become dangerous to humans beings.
4. Elephant Trophies:
An ownership certificate is also required for possessing
the body parts of a Schedule-I animals also called as
"Trophies". It is commonly seen that people posses several
items in their homes made of Ivory, and furnishings made of
elephant’s body parts. The hairs in the elephant tail are
popular as jewellery. It is illegal to keep trophies of
animals belonging to schedule - I of the Wildlife protection
act without proper permit. The trophies have to be declared
voluntarily to the nearest forest officer and a certificate of
ownership has to be obtained.
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LIFE OF WILD
Elephants have been associated with man since time
immemorial. It has been an object of worship and embodiment of
strength, size and intelligence. The Indian culture is so much
associated with this animal that earlier literature has
recorded observations on elephants in detail. The present day
knowledge on Asian elephants in the wild come from several
studies conducted in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India.
Distribution and Habitat
Asian elephant was once distributed from Tigris and
Euphrates Valleys of Syria and Iraq to the yellow river of
China and South to Sumatra (Daniel, 1995). At present it is
confined to India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, Burma
(Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sri
Lanka and Indonesia. In India, it exists as four populations.
The four populations are distributed in the South, Central,
Northwest and Northeast regions in India.
In South India, they are distributed in the forests of
Western and Eastern Ghats in the states of Kerala, Karnataka
and Tamil Nadu. Elephants in the Eastern Ghats in Orissa and
Bihar states form the Central population. Terai forest regions
of Uttar Pradesh along the foothills of Himalayas form the
population in the North Western India. The North-eastern
population is distribute over the Himalayan foothills of
Bhutan and North West Bengal eastwards into the states of
Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura
and Meghalaya. The habitat of these populations are further
fragmented dividing these into isolated populations. Thus,
about ten sub populations could be identified within the South
Elephants in Kerala exist as seven populations.
- Agasthyamala: It consists of those
within the Neyyar, Peppara, Shenduruny and Kulathupuzha
areas south of Ariankavu pass. This region has contiguity
with Mundanthurai-Kalakkad of Tamil Nadu.
- Periyar: This is distributed from the
north of Ariankavu pass and include Ranni, Konni, Achenkovil,
extending upto the borders of Periyar Tiger Reserve. The
east of this region is the Varashanadu hills.
- Idukki: Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary and
the forests of adjacent Ayyappankovil and Nagarampara
Reserves harbour an isolated and probably the most disturbed
population of about 100 elephants.
- Anamalai: The areas under the forest
divisions of Malayatoor, Munnar, Vazhachal, Chalakudy,
Parambikulam, Nemmara and Munnar (Wildlife) is contiguous
with Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and Palni hills of
Tamil Nadu. This population could be considered to have a
larger extent of forests with comparatively less
- Palakkad: Forests of Walayar and
Muthikulam Reserve was once contiguous with the adjacent
forests of Silent Valley and Attappadi. At present, this has
contiguity with part of Shiruvani area of Tamil Nadu.
- Silent Valley - Nilambur: This
population occupies the areas of Attappadi, Silent Valley,
Nilambur and part of Wayanad (Meppadi). The contiguity with
the Nilgiris and Anakkatti of Tamil Nadu further extends the
area available to elephants in the region.
- The Wayanad population exists in
Kerala part as two due to the discontinuity within the
State. However, these populations are connected through
forests of Karnataka. The southern Wayanad population within
Kerala are in Kurichiat, Muthanga and Bathery areas. The
northern population are distributed over Tholpetty, Begur,
Kottiyoor and Aralam areas which are connected to the
Kuttiadi - Thamarassery regions through a narrow belt of
forest at Periyar.
Elephant is a wide ranging animal requiring larger extent
of continuous stretch of forests for food, water and shelter.
Studies conducted in the wild on the home range of elephants
have indicated that a herd of elephant would require a minimum
area of about 650 km². The home range size may vary according
to the regions, the vegetation type which inturn is reflected
in the food and water availability. The home range size was
about 150 km2 in Parambikulam , 115 km² in Sathyamangalam and
650 km² in Mudumalai. there could be seasonal variations in
home range size depending on the environmental factors.
Seasonal movements of elephant herds have been recorded
from different elephant ranges. Studies in Mudumalai,
Sathyamangalam forests, Parambikulam, Wayanad and other areas
have indicated that these movements are mostly influenced by
water and food availability.
Elephants with its large sized body produce metabolic heat.
The colour of the skin absorbs more heat and this combined
with the absence of sweat gland force the animal to go for a
thermoregulatory mechanism through behavioural changes.
Elephants in the wild normally spend the hottest period of the
day in the shade of the trees reducing the activity to a
considerable extent. Further, they also go for wallowing in
muddy waters which help them to keep their skin moist.
Observations of elephants in the wild have indicated that
it spends about more than 70% of the time for feeding.
However, there are seasonal differences depending on the
availability of food and also on the variation in diurnal
temperature. The time spent for resting and wallowing sharply
increase in dry season and there is a reduction in the time
spent for feeding.
Elephant is a polyphagous animal feeding on a number of
plant species belonging to different family. Observations have
indicated utilisation of 93 species in Parambikulam and 112
species in Sathyamangalam area. A major share of the food
species are of grasses and sedges. Grasses, bamboos (again a
grass) and reed are the most utilised. There are seasonal
differences in the utilisation of plant species and also plant
parts. The high crowned molar teeth with their rasp like
surface are structured for grinding fibrous and siliceous food
materials. The prehensile trunk also help them to deal with a
food material of any size and range.
Polyphagous animals such as elephants have the advantage of
surviving even in an environment of scarcity. Availability of
a range of nutrients can also be ensured by feeding on a
variety of species in addition to the most preferred ones.
Thus, elephants have the ability to utilise the available
resources in a very efficient way. During the pinch period of
summer when grasses are scarce and of low nutritive value,
they go for an increased quantity of intake.
They feed a lot on the bark of various tree species. Bark
feeding has been reported to be in response to deficiency in
essential fatty acids such as lenoleic acid in other food
species and found in higher quantities in bark. Further,
higher contents of minerals such as manganese, iron, copper,
boron, calcium and sodium in tree barks have also been
reported as reasons for the bark feeding behaviour of
Elephants are reported to consume between 1.5% (dry season)
and 1.9% (wet season) of their body weight in twelve hours of
feeding. There is not much studies on the mineral requirement
of Asian elephants. A 3000 kg cow elephant may require 60 g.
of calcium daily. An adult elephant require 75-100 g. of
sodium. They need a large quantity of water. Evidences
indicate a requirement of about 100 litres of water at one
time and up to 225 litres in a day.
Many authors have debated on the question whether it is
grazer or browser. Studies in most of the elephant ranges have
indicated that they are both grazers and browsers. However,
the proportion of both grass and browse species in the diet
vary according to seasons. Certain authors have indicated that
the foraging efficiency of elephants on grass is high (80%)
compared to feeding on browse (50%). More often the selection
of food species, whether it is grass or browse, depends on the
nutritive value and also the secondary toxic compounds in the
plant species. The digestive system is reported to be highly
sensitive to plants’ toxic secondary compounds
Elephant is a social animal and live in herds. The herd
will have elephants of different age sex classes. The calves
are protected by all the members of the herd. The herd size
vary according to the season and resource availability. It is
also influenced by environmental factors such as water
availability, disturbance and also by other biotic pressures.
Herds of even up to 62 have been reported in Asian elephants.
The matriarchal system in elephants have been well
established. There could be all male herds also. Most of the
solitary elephants are bulls.
Loss/degradation of habitat
Elephants because of their wide ranging habit require
larger areas. Loss of habitats have been the major threat to
the animal. Fragmentation and degradation of habitat have also
affected most of the populations.
Man-elephant conflict has been identified as one of the
major problems to be solved to ensure their survival in most
of the ranges. The problem is always on the increase because
of degradation /conversion /fragmentation of habitat. Crop
raiding and manslaughter have been reported from several
places in India. This conflict often leads to the death of the
animal or at least inflict serious injuries.
Ivory is a much sought after commodity within and outside
the country. Most of the populations of Asian elephants have a
highly skewed sex ratio favouring females. This may range from
1:5 to 1:100 in certain cases. Such trends have been reported
in the case of polygynous animals due to increased mortality
of males among the calves and juveniles. Since the elephants
are not seasonal breeders, it is also possible that all the
females in the population could be mated by the available
males. However, the genetic heterozygoity will be definitely
affected. This is especially true of isolated populations with
low population sizes. The selective removal of males from the
population through poaching could also affect the behaviour of
the animal to a great extent.
The increasing number of makhnas in most of the population
have been a matter of great concern to conservationists. The
long term effect of such changes cannot be predicted at
present but could be not for good.
It is important that a minimum viable population is
maintained in all the areas for long term survival. These
population may also be ensured enough contiguous habitats. The
Project Elephant launched by Government of India envisages
long term survival of the species ensuring minimum viable
population, larger extent of areas, improvement of habitat,
mitigation of man-elephant conflict problems and affording
protection to the animal from poachers.
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MAN - ELEPHANT
CONFLICT : CAUSES AND CONTROL MEASURES
People dealing with wild elephants know that it is
generally a shy animal, avoiding human beings and loving its
privacy within the forests. At the same time the elephant is
also a wild and mighty animal. Its requirement of food and
living space is also very large. It is, therefore, only
natural that it should come in contact with human beings
sometimes or the other and some problem should arise. In fact,
cases of crop damage and occasional man-killing by wild
elephants have been recorded since time immemorial in all
elephant areas. People have also been killing or injuring
elephants in defence of their life and property. But such
cases used to be few and far between in the past. In the
recent years, however, elephants have been observed to be
straying out of forests much more frequently and causing large
scale depredation in human localities.
As we know, elephant is an endangered animal and
whole-hearted attempts are being made by the Government and
other agencies to protect it. For the success of all such
attempts, co-operation of the public is a must, but public
co-operation can not be obtained in all such areas where
elephants have become a serious problem for the life and
property of human beings. Therefore, control of man-elephant
conflict has become a very important issue for elephant
management in India today.
2. TYPES OF DEPREDATION
Depredation by elephants is usually of the following types:
- Killing or injuring of human beings
-- such cases are mostly accidental in nature, and
nervousness and confusion on the part of the elephant and
the victim lead to such accidents. However, occasionally,
there are some confirmed "rogue" elephants who would
deliberately chase human beings and kill them. Experience
shows that solitary elephants are involved in man killing
more frequently than herd elephants.
- Crop raiding -- Most of the
depredation by elephants is in the form of crop raiding.
More or less, all wild elephants indulge in crop raiding
whenever they get an opportunity. Experience in the Northern
part of West Bengal suggests that wild herds indulge in crop
raiding only in particular months when the crop matures but
cause maximum damage. On the other hand, solitary elephants
visit agricultural fields almost round the year but do not
cause much damage.
- House breaking -- Elephants may
indulge in house breaking for various reasons -- search for
food grains, salt or country liquor or for rescuing their
calves if they have ventured inside a house. In North
Bengal, most of the house-breaking cases take place in tea
gardens. Sometimes there are desperate solitary elephants
who are habitual house breakers.
- Loss of livestock -- Cases of
elephants killing buffaloes and other livestock are reported
from time to time.
3. EXTENT OF DEPREDATION
3.1 Accurate figures regarding depredation by
elephants in India are not available, but the extent of
depredation is believed to be very large. In North Bengal,
wild elephants occur only in the two districts, viz.
Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, and records of elephant depredation
are regularly maintained. The following figures would indicate
the extent of the problem in North Bengal.
3.2 Human casualties
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3.3 Crop damage -- It is estimated that crops over
4000-4500 ha of agricultural land are destroyed by elephants
every year in North Bengal.
3.4 House damage -- Approximately, 1000-1200 houses
are demolished every year by elephants in N. Bengal.
3.5 Compensation-- Government of West Bengal pays
compensation to the victims of elephant depredation.
Expenditure incurred by the Government on payment of
compensation during the last few years is as follows:
Rs. 23.64 lakhs
Rs. 26.11 lakhs
Rs. 22.34 lakhs
Rs. 21.91 lakhs
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3.6 The State Government also spends Rs.40-45 lakh
every year on anti-depredation measures. Tea gardens in North
Bengal also suffer great economic losses on account of house
damages and reduced production due to labour problems
tormented by elephant depredation.
3.7 Considering the fact that there are only 186
wild elephants in North Bengal as per 1992 census, it can be
inferred that the extent of depredation is abnormal, and the
Government of West Bengal and the people of North Bengal are
paying a very high price for the protection of these
4. IMPACT ON THE ELEPHANTS
It will be wrong to assume that only the people are the
losers in this conflict with the elephants or that the
elephants are enjoying the situation. In fact, condition of
elephants in all conflict areas is very pathetic. Quoting from
the North Bengal experience, the elephants are very much
harassed-chased and disturbed constantly as they are, wherever
they go. Number of wild elephants bearing injuries on account
of arrows or bullets shot at them by the local villagers and
tea garden labourers, is very high. Cases of elephant herds
abandoning their calves are becoming common. Incidences of
poaching of wild elephants are also not uncommon. Thus the
elephants are under extreme state of stress on account of
5. CAUSES OF MAN-ELEPHANT CONFLICT
It is difficult to pinpoint a single factor responsible for
the conflict. Often more than one factor cause the problem.
Some major causes are discussed below:
5.1 Habitat destruction
In the recent years, forests have been destroyed in many
areas for agricultural land, tea gardens, factories,
refugee-colonies, army cantonments, roads, railways,
irrigation projects etc. As a result, forests inhabited by
elephants have shrunk and become fragmented. Elephants being a
long ranging animal can not remain confined to a particular
forest area for long. In small fragmented forests elephants
come in contact with human beings more frequently than in
large compact forests and thus the chances of man-elephant
Grazing by cattle is a serious problem in Indian forests.
Cattle not only deprive elephants and other wild herbivores of
their legitimate fodder but also spread many diseases among
them. Scarcity of fodder may force elephants to spend less
time in a forest than they otherwise do and may make them more
inclined to raid agricultural lands.
5.3 Defective forestry practices
Some of the practices followed by the state forest
departments, such as clear felling of large tracts of forests
and conversion of natural forests in to plantations of teak,
eucalyptus, and other non-fodder species, have resulted in
degradation of many forest areas which now can not hold
elephants for a long period as in the past.
5.4 Lure of agricultural crops
An elephant is a huge animal requiring 250-300 kg of fodder
every day. In forests, an elephant may have to spend 16-20
hours daily to gather its food. In an agricultural land,
however, an elephant gets substantial quantity of nutritious
food over a smaller area with the least effort. Elephant being
an intelligent animal, it is obvious that he prefers to raid
over agricultural fields once he has the taste of it and more
so if there is a scarcity of fodder in the forests.
5.5 Over exposure to human beings
Movements of human beings in most forests of India has
increased tremendously. Every day many people enter forests
for grazing their cattle, collecting fodder or fire-wood, or
for other purposes. Thus they come in contact with elephants
more frequently than in the past. Elephant is basically a shy
animal and tends to keep away from human beings. But over
exposure to human beings makes elephants lose their inherent
fear of man and makes them desperate.
5.6 It can, therefore, be seen that man himself is
the cause of conflict with elephants in most of the cases.
6. CONTROL MEASURES
Measures for controlling man-elephant conflict can be
divided into two categories, viz. the short term measures and
the long term measures. Short term measures aim at providing
immediate relief to the people against depredation by
elephants. Long term measures aim at removing the factors
responsible for elephant depredation and at creating ideal
living conditions for elephants within forests. As regards
short term measures no single method is effective in all cases
against all elephants. Elephants are known to exhibit
remarkable intelligence in finding out the limitations of
various methods and adapt themselves accordingly. What,
therefore, is required is constant improvisation of various
methods keeping the psychology and physical capabilities of
the elephant in mind. Both short term and long term methods
should go hand in hand if the problem has to be resolved
6.1 Short Term Measures
6.1.1 Driving away elephants physically using
searchlights and crackers. (In North Bengal, Forest Department
has engaged "Wildlife Squads" to help the people in chasing
away elephants from localities.)
6.1.2 Destruction of confirmed man-killers
6.1.3 Capturing of elephants to control their
6.1.4 Use of trained elephants (koonkie) to
chase away wild elephants.
6.1.5 Tranquillising the problematic elephants and
relocating them to safer places.
6.1.6. Use of barriers (Elephant - proof trench,
watch towers and electric fencings).
6.2 Long Term Measures
6.2.1 Habitat Development Works
Felling of natural forests in India is now banned under
law. In many states, forest departments have taken up
programmes for replacing pure plantations of teak, eucalyptus
etc. with indigenous fodder species. In North Bengal, bamboos
and other fodder species liked by elephants are being planted
on a large scale in various sanctuaries and national parks and
even outside to improve the quality of forests and induce
elephants to spend more time inside forests.
6.2.2 Eco-Development Works
Eco-development works are being undertaken in villages
surrounding various national parks and sanctuaries in India.
The objective is to reduce the dependency of the people over
forests for grazing, firewood and other requirements and thus,
to control biotic interference in forests. Eco-development
works also aim at improving the relationship of the forest
staff with the local people and to ensure the involvement of
the people in the protection of forests and wildlife.
In some states in India, corridors linking one forest
inhabited by elephants with another forest have been
identified. These corridors would be suitably improved to
ensure adequate cover and fodder, and human interference would
be removed from there. It is expected that these corridors
would facilitate free seasonal movement of elephants without
coming in to conflict with human beings.
7. PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES
Experience tells us that the extent of depredation by
elephants can be greatly reduced by observing certain
precautions and by taking preventive measures. An analysis of
the pattern of depredation and the psychology of the elephants
involved, would suggest many such measures. For example, in
North Bengal, the Forest Department has been recommending the
following precautionary measures to the villagers and the
residents of tea gardens:
7.1 Tea garden authorities have been advised to get
their labour colonies electrified and to provide street-lights
at the entry points of the elephants in to the garden.
Experience tells that wild elephants in general are shy of
electric lights. Moreover, people can protect themselves
against elephants in a better manner in the presence of
electric lights than otherwise.
7.2 Local people are also warned against storing "haria"
- a rice based country liquor, in their houses because
elephants are believed to be fond of this and are attracted by
its smell. People are also warned against moving around in
intoxicated condition after sunset because they can not
protect themselves against the elephants.
7.3 Villagers are advised not to grow
bamboos, bananas, jack fruit and all such plants very close to
their houses as may attract elephants. Villagers are also
advised to keep the hedge around their houses short so that
they can get a better view of the approaching elephants.
7.4 People are also advised to spray phenol or use
any other foul smelling substance on the walls of their
houses. It is believed that elephants, who have got an acute
smelling power, keep away from foul smell.
7.5 People are also advised to stay put within their
houses rather than run helter skelter when an elephant is
around. They are much safer indoors than outdoors where they
may accidentally run into the elephant and get killed.
7.6 It has been observed that wild elephants have
more inclination to break houses with walls white-washed or
painted with bright colours than those with green, ochre or
earth coloured walls. Tea garden authorities are advised to
keep this fact in view while constructing or repairing labour
7.7. In areas where crop depredation by elephants is
a regular problem, villagers are advised not to grow paddy or
maize but to go for jute, potato and any other crop which is
not eaten by elephants.
7.8 People are also warned no to cause injury to an
elephant using arrows, bullets, fire or any other means. An
injured elephant is mush more dangerous and may turn in to a
8. TRAINING AND PUBLICITY
As stated earlier, man-elephant conflict is basically a
man-made problem. Therefore, to solve the problem man, rather
than elephant, should mend his ways. The problem can be
greatly reduced if people stop disturbing forests and take
suitable precautionary measures. It is possible that man and
elephant can live in peaceful co-existence. This can be
achieved through intensive publicity among the people and by
providing suitable training to them. In North Bengal, the
Forest Department has already initiated such a publicity and
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CAPTURE AND TRAINING IN KERALA FOREST DEPARTMENT
Dr. Girinadhan Nair
History of elephant capture
The Indian elephant has been declared as a Schedule - 1
animal, by the Wildlife Protection Act, meaning, it is a
highly endangered species. Wild elephants are facing the
threat of extinction due to poaching and habitat destruction.
In 1973, the Indian government officially banned elephant
capture, to prevent the depletion of wild elephant population.
How ever, elephants that encroach into human habitations are
captured by the forest department.
In the past, elephants were abundant in forests and were
captured in large numbers, to be trained to suit human needs.
There have been references in an ancient Greek text, by
Megasthenes, as early as 2000 B.C., about elephant capture and
training. In India elephant capture was carried out by various
methods and they were: Pit method, Kheddah, Noose or
trap method, Decoys and spearing. Various regions of India,
practised various methods of capture.
In Kerala, elephant capture operations were carried out by
the pit method, during the months of July, August, and
September, which coincides with the S. west monsoon. Elephant
herds, while travelling in search of waterholes and fodder,
form regular paths or 'walks', in the forests. The forest
guards and watchers, who tracked these ‘walks’, would inform
the concerned forest official, such as Range Officer and pits
would be dug along these paths. Elephant capture in Kerala,
was carried out in some important forest ranges like Konni,
Kodanadu, Muthanga, Nilambur, Parambikulam (forest), and
The pits were arranged in sets, where a set consisted of 3
pits, arranged in a triangle. 40-60 such sets of pits were
dug, in a range alone. The dimensions of the pits were as
Distance between each pit, in a set - 20-25 feet. (7 - 8 mt)
Diameter between each pit - 12 feet (4 mt)
Depth of each pit - 12 feet (4 mt)
The pits were narrow, or tapering towards the bottom, to
minimise the intensity of injury, caused to the elephant, due
to the fall. While an elephant were falling, its body would
strike against the sides, thus minimising the shock, during
the fall. While preparing the pit, the mud that had been dug
out, was removed far away from the pit. The pits were
camouflaged with vegetation. Rafters were placed across the
pit, vertically and horizontally, and dried twigs and leaves
were laid out, across the top. The camouflage had to blend
with the rest of the surroundings. Since the pits were dug
during September and March, the dried leaves falling from
nearby trees covered the area naturally and it became
impossible even for humans to identify the pits.
The site for digging the pits had to be chosen very
carefully keeping in mind the following points.
- Rocky areas had to be avoided, as the
elephant could be severely injured during the fall.
- The earth had to be loose and soft to
make it easier for digging.
- There had to be several strong trees
around the area, to chain the elephant and to fasten ropes,
when the elephant was being taken out.
- Ample water supply was essential for
the koonkie elephants assisting the operation.
The pits were lined inside with grass from the forest,
about 6 feet deep. The grass and brush wood was renewed every
two weeks, as they dried up quickly in summer. Every morning
the watchers or guards inspected the pits for trapped
elephants and reported to their respective senior officers.
Not all elephants that were trapped were captured. They were
selected on the basis of their height, age and size. Elephants
between 6 1/2 - 7 1/2
feet height, sub adults and cow elephants were preferred, as
they were considered easier to handle and train. Larger
tuskers, cows with very young calves and aged elephants, were
released back into the forest. The wild caught had to be
smaller than the koonkie elephants.
To prevent elephants escaping, huge trees were chopped down
and laid across the pit. Special ropes were prepared, from the
bark of the
Vakka tree, (Streculia villosa), to noose
the wild elephant in the pit. Fresh ropes were prepared for
each operation, as their quality deteriorated with time. The
number of koonkies to be used, depended on the size of
the wild caught. No more than 3 koonkies were necessary
for a capture operation.
The mahouts offered prayers to the mountain Gods, before
removing the elephant from the pit. The wild elephant was
noosed by experienced mahouts. The elephant was noosed on both
the hind feet and the neck. The elephant's neck was measured
in an interesting manner. One of the persons involved in the
capture would attempt to distract the elephant using a white
cloth, while the others would insert a long pole into the pit,
to measure its height. The girth of the neck is calculated as
7/8 th of the height and a noose of the same dimension, was
made. A peg was inserted between the knot on the noose, to
prevent it from strangling the elephant.
Applying the noose required skill and courage. It was
applied using bamboo poles or by lassoing. A second noose had
to be applied, which had to run under the first one. Both
these nooses had to be connected to the peg around the first
noose, with a small knot called the cherukettu. The
cherukettu was tied by experienced mahouts, who had to
lean over the pit. A knot was tied around his waist, the other
end of which was held by strong men.
To bind one of the hind legs, the noose was placed on the
floor of the pit and was tightened around the elephant's legs,
as soon as it placed its legs accidentally over the noose. A
second noose was tied around the other leg, after the elephant
emerged from the pit. The koonkies held the free ends
of the ropes, around the hind leg and the loose ends of the
two ropes, from the neck on either sides. The elephants were
assisted out of the pit by means of billets, which were added
to the pit after noosing. The billets had to be added slowly
and carefully, to prevent the elephants from escaping.
As soon as the elephant was out, the capture team proceeded
to an even ground preferably, along the banks of a river. The
elephant had to be given plenty of water to drink, and had to
be cooled by periodical sprays.
kraals continue to exist from the old days and are
used to house weaned calves or ailing elephants. The elephants
were brought to the camp site and enkralled, with the
assistance of koonkies. The entire
kraal can be divided into six sections, of 12 square
feet each, with one single roof. The wood of thambakam
was used to build a
Kraal, because it is very strong and could not be
easily destroyed, by the elephant. The roof was built about 20
feet high from the floor.
The training takes place in 3 stages. Elephant training is
still carried out for calves and wild caught elephants in some
- Training within the Kraal.
- Training outside the Kraal.
- Training to perform logging
Training within the
After the elephants were enkralled, two mahouts were
assigned to train it. They first treated the elephant for
bruises sustained, from the fall into the pit. The medicinal
preparation used, was a mixture of several herbs and this was
splashed onto the body. The mahout tried to build up a
relationship with the elephant by giving vocal commands, to
familiarise the elephant with his voice. The commands were
repeated constantly and the elephant was rewarded with tit
bits of food or verbal approval, when it obeyed the commands.
During the initial stages of training, the mahouts used only
the stick, to restrain the elephant.
The mahouts were expected to spend lots of time with the
elephant to develop a bond between him and his elephant. After
a certain period, when the mahout felt comfortable enough to
trust the elephant and vice versa, he would try and place one
leg inside the cage and continue training in this manner.
Later, smaller cages were built within the actual
Kraal, to let the mahout get closer to the elephant
and enable him to safely clean the
Kraal. During this period, the mahout had to be
wary of the elephant's movements, for his own safety. Towards
the end of the training, the mahout had to fasten ropes and
chains, on the elephant to familiarise it with the idea of
Training outside the
With the help of koonkies, the elephants were taken out of
Kraal and walked to the river, to be familiarised
with scrub baths. This was carried out every morning for two
weeks, until the elephant was accustomed to the new
environment outside the
Kraal and also to being bathed, by its mahouts. The
walk to the river also familiarised the elephant, with the
sounds and sights of civilisation. The mahout had to
constantly reassure the elephant and help it get over its
Training to perform logging operations
Training elephants to perform timber hauling operations is
a complex job. There have to be at least two mahouts or
trainers, during the training period, which may last for two
years Training elephants to perform timber hauling operations
is a complex job. There have to be at least two mahouts or
trainers, during the training period, which may last for two
Uses of elephants
- Elephants in the past, were used for
battles and wars. With the invention and use of guns and
canons, elephants ceased going for wars.
- Elephants are used for various
religions events in India. In Kerala they are an important
part of the temple activities like
- Elephants are used in logging
operations. In the forest types of Asia, where the land is
uneven and sometimes very steep, elephants are very useful
to carry out logging.
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CAPTURING IN NORTH-EASTERN INDIA
1. Elephants are captured in Assam and the other
North-Eastern states either by "KHEDDA" or "MELA SHIKAR".
2. KHEDDA OR GARH-SHIKAR
There are two variations of Khedda as practised in Assam,
viz., the Pung Garh and the Dandi Garh.
2.1 Pung Garh
"Pung", in local dialect, refers to a natural source of
salt used by wild animals. In this method, a big enclosure
(called stockade) of stout wooden poles is erected at a
convenient place near a natural salt-lick , but away from the
path taken by the elephants to reach the saltlick. The
stockade is suitably camouflaged from inside as well as
outside. The approach to the stockade is shaped like a funnel
(called "Rangi" in local dialect) by suitably dressing the
nearby forests and by using wooden posts and brushwood if so
needed. Persons atop watch towers keep watch over the movement
of elephant herds to the saltlick. As soon as a herd starts
its return journey from the salt lick, it is obstructed on the
way and driven carefully by shikaris and "beaters" towards the
"rangi" using crackers and other noise-making instruments. As
soon as the herd enters the stockade, its gate is slammed shut
, using a trapping mechanism. A wide trench runs inside the
stockade along the wall to dissuade the elephants from using
their full might to break through the stockade. Help of koonki
elephants is taken to noose and bring out the wild elephants
selected for domestication. Usually big and old elephants,
pregnant elephants or those with suckling calves and elephants
below 4 feet of height are permitted to escape.
2.2 Dandi Garh
In local parlance,"Dandi" refers to the migratory path of
elephant herds. In this method, a stockade is made at a
convenient place on the migratory route of the elephants just
before their seasonal movement starts. A herd is located when
still at some distance from the stockade and then driven
vigorously from behind till it runs into the stockade and gets
3. MELA SHIKAR
In local parlance,"mela shikar" refers to hunting in the
open i.e.,capturing of elephants in the forests without
erecting a stockade. Essentially the method involves the chase
of wild elephants by using trained elephants (koonkies) and
noosing them when the opportunity arises. In fact, mela shikar
is much more popular in N.E.India than the khedda. A variation
of mela shikar is known as the "Gazali Shikar". Gazali refers
to the young shoots of grasses that sprout up during
pre-monsoon showers in May-June. Elephants are very fond of
gazali and are attracted towards grassy patches wherever they
are and provide a good opportunity to the mela shikaris.
3.1 Preparation For Mela Shikar
3.1.1 Mela shikar is usually practised in winters
(October to March) with the exception of Gazali shikar which,
as stated above, is carried out in May-June. Mela shikar is
not done during the monsoon due to practical difficulties. The
preparations for mela shikar, however, start much in advance.
3.1.2 A standard team for mela shikar consists of a
koonki elephant, a phandi (an expert on noosing a wild
elephant), a mahout and a kamla (i.e. a grass-cutter).
Considering the uneven terrain and dense forests in N.E.India,
comparatively smaller (7.5 feet to 8 feet in height) and swift
moving elephants are preferred as koonkies. Cow elephants and
Makhnas (tuskless elephants) are preferred to the tuskers.
Koonkie elephants are specially trained to chase the wild
elephants, help in noosing them and drag them to the depot.
They are particularly trained to follow "foot commands" from
their mahouts and to move silently during the entire capturing
operation. The phandi and the mahout must have a complete
understanding with each other as well as with the koonkie
under their command. It is the duty of the kamla to look after
the feeding and other requirements of the koonkie back at the
3.1.3 Number of mela shikar teams is selected
depending upon the number of wild elephants proposed to be
captured -- usually one team of shikaris can take care of only
two or three wild elephants during the season. Some big
koonkies including tuskers are also required for handling the
captured elephants at the depots and for imparting training to
3.1.4 In N.E. India jute ropes are used for elephant
capturing as these cause minor and easily curable injuries to
the elephants. Before the actual operation, ropes of different
thickness, lengths and knots are prepared and kept in
3.2.1 As soon as an elephant herd is located, it is
given a chase by two or more koonkies. The objective is to
wear out the elephants or to force them towards a hilly region
or a big river or any other area where their movements are
restricted. A target elephant (usually in the height range of
5.5 feet to 7.5 feet) is selected and attempts are made to
isolate the same from the herd. Once the target elephant is
isolated, the phandi throws the "phand" (noose) over the neck
of the elephant and tries to restrain it with the help of the
3.2.2 During the entire operation, the phandi
occupies the front seat on the elephant and the mahout
controls the koonkie from its back. He also keeps watch on the
other wild elephants when the phandi is busy with his quarry.
3.2.3 The captured elephant is then dragged to the
training depot with the help of one or two koonkies. The
captured elephant is treated for injuries, if any. It is
handed over to the training koonkies. To begin with, two
koonkies are needed to handle the wild elephant but after 8-10
days of training, just one koonkie is sufficient. The wild
elephant remains at the depot for 3-4 weeks during which
period, it is familiarised with human touch and voice through
different rituals involving caressing and a recital of folk
songs. It is also taught to follow the following four
commands, viz., Dhaat (i.e. stand still ), Agait (I. e. walk
forward), Pichhu (i.e. walk backward) and Cheyi (i.e. turn
left or right). The wild elephant can now be handled without
the help of koonkies and it is sent to the regular elephant
camp where further training is imparted.
4. Comparison of Mela Shikar with Khedda
As stated earlier, mela shikar is more popular in the N. E.
India than the khedda. Khedda involves very large expenditure
and can be organised only near a saltlick or a known migratory
path. Success rate of khedda is very low as compared to mela
shikar. Mela Shikar is relatively cheaper and offers much more
liberty regarding the area of operation, but it is not
suitable for capturing elephants of big size (say, of the
height above 7.5 feet ). Mela Shikar involves considerable
risk for the phandi and the koonkie and cases of their getting
injured or even killed are not uncommon. There is also a
chance of the captured wild elephant getting suffocated if the
knot of the noose is not correct. All said and done, mela
shikar has become an art and a tradition with the people of